10 Things I Wish My Husband Knew About Himself
2. That his free-form, celery-and-chili-heavy cooking style, which he rarely has time to exercise, but yields lovely things when he does, tastes like his approach to food: joyful and inventive. I still am amazed that he once concocted a perfect barbecue sauce without a recipe and that he made the only meatball sandwich in living memory that made me understand the point of them.
3. That it isn't only habit that I still call him by the dumb nickname he accidentally gave himself 20 years ago. ("I hate it when people mispronounce my name," I'd said. I was 20 and feeling very put-upon. "I mean, what's so hard about WILL-JEN?" "I know exactly what you mean," he replied. "People are always mispronouncing my name as Steve when anyone can see that it's clearly pronounced Stevvie.") I'm still calling him Stevvie. A good, stupid joke should not be forgotten just because a few decades have elapsed; I fell in love with him for that joke, for its quickness, sheer silliness and for making fun of me (gently) and himself (ludicrously).
4. That my mother has never forgotten how tenderly he cared for our family's dying golden retriever, without ever mentioning that it was messy and sad and not even his own dog.
5. That he is a better man at 43 than he was at 23: more thoughtful, more humble, more accomplished and more self-aware. But, then, who isn't better at 43 than 23? He's handsomer now, too.
6. That he somehow manages to be both the largest kid I know and the most comforting and reassuring presence I can think of. I can't quite put my finger on how this is possible, but it may have something to do with his willingness to accept whatever moment he is in.
8. That he is the reason I have a child. Well, obviously, but that's not what I mean. I was never at all sure that I wanted to be a parent, and if he hadn't been so sanguine about having that baby we'd been putting off for 17 years, because one of us wanted more stability (him) and one of us feared parenthood would reveal us not to be responsible adults but thin shells of function over a molten terror center (guess who?), I would never have done it. And thank God I did, because now we have a toddler who changes her name three times a day, assumes the identity of animals and fictional characters and, on airplanes, likes to offer the gentle suggestion, "Just relax and go to sleep, okay, Mom?" Not to mention that having a child showed me yet another facet of my husband, which is:
9. That he is a baby wizard. How else would he have known to magically calm our screaming newborn by two-stepping in circles around the kitchen while inventing a rockabilly-tinged song about sleeping? I always knew that he liked kids and they liked him, too—toddlers cling to his limbs like spider monkeys, our friends' children greet me by hollering, "WHERE'S STEVVIE?"—but babies? They're another world, a nonverbal, scientific-method, wild-animal kind of world, and I had no idea he'd navigate that so well, too. There's nothing more reassuring, and frankly, hotter than someone who handles the wilderness of early parenthood with calm, inventiveness and a judicious touch of early Johnny Cash. And this leads me to my favorite thing about my husband.
10. That where other people bluster, he is brave. The word brave feels so old-school, so pick-me-up-and-defend-me, that it surprises me that this is the word that pops into my head. More times than I can count, I've seen him look at his life and decide to change it, then go ahead and do it with a minimum of hand-wringing. (I, on the other hand, can lose years to the hand-wringing portion of my process.) Sometimes it's the big things, like putting himself through college, starting a company or quitting drinking. But it's his bravery in daily life, in conversation and in conflict, that impresses me most. When everyone else breaks eye contact, Steve looks. When they won't say what they're thinking, he does. Most of us fear someone described this way, and I suppose there's reason to, if someone is the sort who gives voice to every nuclear zinger and petty thought, but what Steve is thinking has instead moved me a thousand times by being generous, unexpected or simply honest. The best example I can think of is this: When we were in our 20s, his older sister's cancer had returned after a year's remission and I had no words to comfort anyone. How do you issue comfort without completely removing the tragedy, which we could not do? The answer, it turned out, is with kindness, and generosity and grief: "Maybe we did have our miracle," he said, "we had her for a year longer than we thought we would." I had been dating Steve for five years by then, and I thought I already knew all the things I loved about him, but that day I realized that even in someone I knew so well and loved so well, there was always more to learn about him. And there always is.
Michelle Wildgen is the author of the novels Bread and Butter and You're Not You.